While at the gym, the two most common exercises I see people do are crunches with rotations (touching your elbow with the opposite knee) and side bends (where you bend to the side while standing with a weight in your hand).
These exercises will certainly work the core muscles. The issue with these exercises, and others that involve repetitive movement of the spine, is that they place alot of pressure on the discs over many repititions. The movements that place the most stress on the discs are flexion (bending forward), rotation, and compression. Both the Side Bend, and Crunches (along with similar exericses) create exactly these type of forces. Over time, these repetitive strains on your discs can lead to injury.
When you think of the main function of your abs and other core muscles, it isnt to repetitively flex or bend. It is to hold your body upright and stable for long periods of time. Research into low back pain has shown that the endurance of spinal stabilizers is one of the most important factors to be addressed in maintaining spinal health. In order to train endurance, while minimizing stress on the spine, I always recommend training abs in a neutral position. The four exercises I most commonly recommend for this purpose are the Bird-Dog, Dead-Bug, Front Plank, and Side Plank.
- Pull your belly button down and brace your abs
- Breathe normally throughout exercise
- Concentrate on holding a neutral spine and not allowing it to move
-Hold position shown for 1-2 seconds, then slowly alternate and repeat
- Perform 10-15 repetitions on each side for three sets every other day. If you reach a point where you can no longer maintain a neutral spine, its time to end that set.
2. Bird- Dog
- Raise your right arm and left leg and hold for 5-10 seconds
- Breathe normally
- Repeat on the same side three times, then alternate
- Concentrate on keeping your back flat, and not allowing your hips to rotate
- Hold your belly button in
- Breathe normally while keeping your belly button in and abs tight
- Make sure to keep your body straight. ie. Your hips in line with your shoulders when looking from the front and from above.
As I said, these are the four exercises I most commonly recommend to train spinal stability. These exercises are useful for people of all fitness types. However, it is important for those with existing back problems to consult a professional before starting these types of exercises. These people may benefit from treatment and/or starting at a more basic level.
If you have any questions or would like to book an appointment, please call us at 747-0844
Dr. Jeff Marshall, BScKin, DC, CSCS
Contemporary Medical Acupunture Provider
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist